Cerebral palsy is a motor disorder that affects muscle movement and control, but along with the classic symptoms, such as spastic movements and exaggerated reflexes, there are numerous other conditions that children may develop. Some children may acquire a variety of associated conditions, whereas others may only have a few. Cerebral palsy, as well as its associated disorders, can affect each child differently.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), seizures are a common associated disorder of cerebral palsy. Partial and secondary generalized types, the most common types of seizures with numerous subcategories, are both typical in children with cerebral palsy.
Children with cerebral palsy also tend to have an earlier onset of seizures when compared to children without the disorder. It can start in infancy or within the first few years of life.
Seizures occur when there’s abnormal activity in the brain, causing a “misfire” or malfunction. They can vary in severity, and sometimes, mild seizures can go unnoticed. In severe cases, seizures can make a child lose consciousness. If seizure occur frequently or repeatedly, they are known as epilepsy.
Some children with cerebral palsy will develop cognitive disabilities, but despite popular myths, not all children will experience learning and cognitive issues. In fact, many children with cerebral palsy have high IQs and grow up to be successful in their chosen fields of work.
Per Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, around ¼ of all children with cerebral palsy will experience some sort of cognitive issue, and the severity will vary according to each child. The most common types of cognitive problems for children with cerebral palsy include difficulties with problem solving, self-control issues, and lack of proper goal setting.
By far, children with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy (50% chance) are the most likely to develop cognitive issues.
Children with cerebral palsy who have cognitive disabilities may also have additional conditions that accompany the impairment, including:
- Depression and anxiety
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Sleep disturbances
- Anger issues
- Behavioral disorders
Although there’s no single cause to why children develop cognitive issues, experts suggest it may have something to do with the brain injury that caused cerebral palsy.
Vision problems are also common in children with cerebral palsy. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it can be difficult to discern when young children are experiencing vision issues. A few things to look out for include:
- Moving eyes close to reading materials and/or pictures/picture books
- Frequent headaches
- Eye squinting when trying to focus on objects
- Covering one eye while looking at objects
Fortunately, vision problems can be remedied once they’re identified. For children with cerebral palsy, it’s crucial to get vision help as soon as possible. Schedule regular eye check-ups as soon as possible.
Hearing and Speech Problems
Around 20% of children with cerebral palsy will have hearing problems. Hearing issues often lead to speech problems. Speech problems can also occur due to lack of control in the jaw muscles, but it’s often coupled with hearing issues.
Without early intervention and proper treatment, speech and hearing problems can turn into major issues, especially when children reach school age. Children may have difficulties with social interaction, as well as language development.
Most cases of conducive hearing loss (hearing impairment that affects the inner and middle ear) can be treated effectively with hearing aids, antibiotics, and in some cases, corrective surgery. Sensorineural hearing problems (hearing impairment that affects the nerve fibers of the inner ear) are treated with corrective surgery, but only 50% of children will benefit from the treatment.
As with vision problems, the earlier treatment starts for hearing impairment issues the better the chances of successful treatment.
Jaundice is an associated disorder of cerebral palsy in that it can play a part in causing the condition. There is a common misconception that jaundice is harmless, but while that’s true some cases, in other instances, it can become so severe that the infant will develop a host of medical issues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines jaundice as a buildup of bilirubin in a baby’s body. It’s apparent shortly after birth if the infant’s skin has a yellowish tint to it. Other symptoms include poor weight gain, yellow tint to the eyes, high-pitched crying, and listlessness.
Unfortunately, medical mistakes and negligence can lead to jaundice becoming a severe problem for babies. If a physician fails to detect, diagnose, and treat severe jaundice, kernicterus (a rare form of brain damage) may develop and lead to cerebral palsy. This is one the reason some parents have filed cerebral palsy lawsuits against healthcare providers.
Other Associated Disorders
Other cerebral palsy disorders include (but not limited to):
- Bladder issues
- Periodontal issues
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Skin infection and irritation
- Growth impairment
Again, it’s important to remember that not all children will develop the same associated disorders. While almost all children with cerebral palsy will have at least one associated condition, the severity will vary according to each child. Nevertheless, with early intervention and proper treatment, the majority of children with cerebral palsy can go on to thrive and have fulfilling lives.
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